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It’s holiday season for tech unicorns

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Editor’s note: Get this free weekly recap of TechCrunch news that any startup can use by email every Saturday morning (7 a.m. PT). Subscribe here.

Did you follow all of the unicorn news from the last couple of weeks? No? Here’s a list of headlines to catch you up, because this holiday season is already featuring mega acquisitions, even more IPO filings, and a steady drumbeat of fundraises.

Somehow, after one of the toughest years in recent memory, the tech industry is heading into December with more enthusiasm than ever. (Still remember the WeWork IPO fiasco from last year? No?)

Salesforce buys Slack in a $27.7B megadeal

Everyone has an opinion on the $27.7B Slack acquisition

What to make of Stripe’s possible $100B valuation

How the pandemic drove the IPO wave we see today

A roundup of recent unicorn news

C3.ai’s initial IPO pricing guidance spotlights the public market’s tech appetite (EC)

Working to understand C3.ai’s growth story (EC)

Insurtech’s big year gets bigger as Metromile looks to go public (EC)

Wall Street needs to relax, as startups show remote work is here to stay (EC)

In first IPO price range, Airbnb’s valuation recovers to pre-pandemic levels (EC)

3 new $100M ARR club members and a call for the next generation of growth-stage startups (EC)

Virtual fundraising is here to stay

Connie Loizos sat down with Jason Green of leading enterprise-focused firm Emergence Capital to get his view of SPACs, and how they are likely to be used next year and beyond. But early-stage startups, don’t miss his affirmation of Zoom meetings as part of the fundraising process going forward.

I would say that over the last five years, we’ve made almost a total transition. Now we’re very much a data-driven, thesis-driven outbound firm, where we’re reaching out to entrepreneurs soon after they’ve started their companies or gotten seed financing. The last three investments that we made were all relationships that [date back] a year to 18 months before we started engaging in the actual financing process with them. I think that’s what’s required to build a relationship and the conviction, because financings are happening so fast.

I think we’re going to actually do more investments this year than we maybe have ever done in the history of the firm, which is amazing to me [considering] COVID. I think we’ve really honed our ability to build this pipeline and have conviction, and then in this market environment, Zoom is actually helping expand the landscape that we’re willing to invest in. We’re probably seeing 50% to 100% more companies and trying to whittle them down over time and really focus on the 20 to 25 that we want to dig deep on as a team.

Thousands of startup founders will resume the trek around Silicon Valley VC offices, once the vaccines arrive. But we’ll remember 2020 as the year that venture truly joined the cloud.

Image Credits: Brighteye Ventures

Edtech looks to the future

Every level of education was forced online by the pandemic this year, at least temporarily. While the children might be back in the classroom already, higher education and corporate education are still booming remotely. Natasha Mascarenhas analyzed the latest market changes for Extra Crunch, and put together a panel of industry leaders for a special Thanksgiving edition of Equity. Here’s more about what you’ll find on the show:

For this Equity Dive, we zero onto one part of that conversation: Edtech’s impact on higher education. We brought together Udacity co-founder and Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun, Eschaton founder and college dropout Ian Dilick, and Cowboy Ventures investor Jomayra Herrera to answer our biggest questions.

Here’s what we got into:

  • How the state of remote school is leading to gap years among students.
  • A framework for how to think of higher education’s main three products (including which is most defensible over time).
  • What learnings we can take from this COVID-19 experiment on remote schooling to apply to the future.
  • Why edtech is flocking to the notion of life-long learning.
  • The reality of who self-paced learning serves — and who it leaves out.

Blank Sale Tag on white background.

How to price your SaaS product for a bottoms-up growth strategy

SaaS is continuing to be reshaped by consumer internet techniques, with top companies of our era competing through word-of-mouth growth versus incumbent sales forces. The revenue model must be precise for this to scale, though. In a guest post for Extra Crunch, Caryn Marooney and David Cahn of Coatue lay out a strategic framework for how to price your bottoms-up SaaS product the right way for the market. Called “MAP,” for Metrics, Activity and People, it helps you sort your product against the actual ways that people are trying to use and pay for it. Here’s how they describe the A:

Activity: How do your customers really use your product and how do they describe themselves? Are they creators? Are they editors? Do different customers use your product differently? Instead of metrics, a key anchor for pricing may be the different roles users have within an organization and what they want and need in your product. If you choose to anchor on activity, you will need to align feature sets and capabilities with usage patterns (e.g., creators get access to deeper tooling than viewers, or admins get high privileges versus line-level users). For example:

  • Figma — Editors versus viewers: Free to view, starts changing after two edits.
  • Monday — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $10-$20/month.
  • Smartsheet — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $10+/month.

Around TechCrunch

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Across the week

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Calling VCs in Israel: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

SEC issues proposed rulemaking to give gig workers equity compensation

The downfall of adtech means the trust economy is here

How Ryan Reynolds and Mint Mobile worked without becoming the joke

What will tomorrow’s tech look like? Ask someone who can’t see

Extra Crunch

Mental health startups are raising spirits and venture capital

Who’s building the grocery store of the future?

Strike first, strike hard, no mercy: How emerging managers can win

This is a good time to start a proptech company

7 things we just learned about Sequoia’s European expansion plans

#EquityPod

From Alex Wilhelm:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We’re back with not an Equity Shot or Dive of Monday, this is just the regular show! So, we got back to our roots by looking at a huge number of early-stage rounds. And a few other things that we were just too excited about to not mention.

So from Chris and Danny and Natasha and I, here’s the rundown:

That was a lot, but how could we leave any of it out? We’re back Monday with more!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

 

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Elon Musk says Tesla Semi is ready for production, but limited by battery cell output

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on the company’s 2020 Q4 earnings call that all engineering work is now complete on the Tesla Semi, the freight-hauling semi truck that the company is building with an all-electric powertrain. The company expects to begin deliveries of Tesla Semi this year, the company said in its Q4 earnings release, and Musk said the only thing limiting their ability to produce them now is the availability of battery cells.

“The main reason we have not accelerated new products – like for example Tesla Semi – is that we simply don’t have enough cells for it,” Musk said. “If we were to make the Semi right now, and we could easily go into production with the Semi right now, but we would not have enough cells for it.”

Musk added that the company does expect to have sufficient cell volume to meet its needs once it goes into production on its 4680 battery pack, which is a new custom cell design it created with a so-called ‘tables’ design that allows for greater energy density and therefore range.

“A Semi would use typically five times the number of cells that a car would use, but it would not sell for five times what a car would sell for, so it kind of would not make sense for us to do the Semi right now,” Musk said. “But it will absolutely make sense for us to do it as soon as we can address the cell production constraint.”

That constraint points to the same conclusion for the possibility of Tesla developing a van, Musk added, and the lifting of the constraint will likewise make it possible for Tesla to pursue the development of that category of vehicle, he said.

Tesla has big plans for “exponentially” ramping cell production, with a goal of having production capacity infrastructure in place for a Toal of 200 gigawatt hours per year by 2022, and a target of being able to actually produce around 40% of that by that year (with future process improvements generating additional gigawatt hours of cell capacity  in gradual improvements thereafter).

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Pro-Trump Twitter figure arrested for spreading vote-by-text disinformation in 2016

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The man behind a once-influential pro-Trump account is facing charges of election interference for allegedly disseminating voting disinformation on Twitter in 2016.

Federal prosecutors allege that Douglass Mackey, who used the name “Ricky Vaughn” on Twitter, encouraged people to cast their ballot via text or on social media, effectively tricking others into throwing away those votes.

According to the Justice Department, 4,900 unique phone numbers texted a phone number Mackey promoted in order to “vote by text.” BuzzFeed reported the vote-by-text scam at the time, noting that many of the images were photoshopped to look like official graphics from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Some of those images appeared to specifically target Black and Spanish-speaking Clinton supporters, a motive that tracks with the account’s track record of white supremacist and anti-Semitic content. The account was suspended in November 2016.

At the time, the mysterious account quickly gained traction in the political disinformation ecosystem. HuffPost revealed that the account was run by Mackey, the son of a lobbyist, two years later.

“… His talent for blending far-right propaganda with conservative messages on Twitter made him a key disseminator of extremist views to Republican voters and a central figure in the alt-right’ white supremacist movement that attached itself to Trump’s coattails,” HuffPost’s Luke O’Brien reported.

Mackey, a West Palm Beach resident, was taken into custody Wednesday in Florida.

“There is no place in public discourse for lies and misinformation to defraud citizens of their right to vote,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth D. DuCharme said.

“With Mackey’s arrest, we serve notice that those who would subvert the democratic process in this manner cannot rely on the cloak of Internet anonymity to evade responsibility for their crimes.”

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Tesla is willing to license Autopilot and has already had “preliminary discussions” about it with other automakers

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Tesla is open to licensing its software, including its Autopilot highly-automated driving technology, and the neural network training it has built to improve its autonomous driving technology. Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed those considerations on the company’s Q4 earnings call on Wednesday, adding that the company has in fact already “had some preliminary discussions about licensing Autopilot to other OEMs.”

The company began rolling out its beta version of the so-called ‘full self-driving’ or FSD version of Autopilot late last year. The standard Autopilot features available in general release provide advanced driver assistance (ADAS) which provide essentially advanced cruise control capabilities designed primarily for use in highway commutes. Musk said on the call that he expects the company will seek to prove out its FSD capabilities before entering into any licensing agreements, if it does end up pursuing that path.

Musk noted that Tesla’s “philosophy is definitely not to create walled gardens” overall, and pointed out that the company is planning to allow other automakers to use its Supercharger networks, as well as its autonomy software. He characterized Tesla as “more than happy to license” those autonomous technologies to “other car companies,” in fact.

One key technical hurdle required to get to a point where Tesla’s technology is able to demonstrate true reliability far surpassing that of a standard human driver is transition the neural networks operating in the cars and providing them with the analysis that powers their perception engines is to transition those to video. That’s a full-stack transition across the system away from basing it around neural nets trained on single cameras and single frames.

To this end, the company has developed video labelling software that has had “a huge effect on the efficiency of labeling,” with the ultimate aim being enabling automatic labeling. Musk (who isn’t known for modesty around his company’s achievements, it should be said) noted that Tesla believes “it may be the best neural net training computer in the world by possibly an order of magnitude,” adding that it’s also “something we can offer potentially as a service.”

Training huge quantities of video data will help Tesla push the reliability of its software from 100% that of a human driver, to 200% and eventually to “2,000% better than the average human,” Musk said, while again suggesting that it won’t be a technological achievement the company is interested into keeping to themselves.

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